Category Archives: Personal

One year on

During the last week, I marked the one year anniversary of my arrival in Australia. I spent it down in Gippsland (about 4 hours east of Melbourne) where I had some of the best cheese and wine I’ve had since I got to Australia. Then at the weekend I helped my partner out with a work event, a rally for owners of Moody, Hanse and Dehler yachts in the bay. You can see from the attached photos what a hardship that was…

An anniversary is often a good moment for reflection and so it seemed the right time to look back over the last year and see what I have learnt about myself.

Retaking the controls of my own life

When I was telling people that I had decided to leave work and go to university in Australia, I generally got two comments: “You’re so brave” and “I’m so envious”. Looking back I don’t feel I was brave: I had just reached a point where something had to change and I couldn’t go on the way things were. It didn’t feel brave at all; it was almost inevitable. So I suppose the first lesson is, if you feel trapped or unhappy, the only real agent of change is yourself. However scary it is, the benefit of feeling you have control over your own destiny far outweighs the scary factor.

Learning is a great joy

Another big lesson of the last year has been that education is wasted on you when you’re young. I have got so much more out of this experience for having been away from education for a while, so much more than if I had done this straight out of university, or even 5 years later. I was so hungry for it when I arrived, and I have approached it as a privilege. I’ve taken many opportunities to learn in the broadest sense of the word, doing new things from sailing to start-up weekends.

Let it go

One of my favourite lessons has been the realisation that I don’t have to get things right first time. Any idea I have can be improved by working with other people, who will come at it from different angles and bring different perspectives that I could never have achieved. It’s not a sign of incompetence to let your work be improved by others. In fact, it’s a sign of strong emotional intelligence, and good sense.

Actually, I don’t always have to *have* an idea. Sitting back and letting things grow can also work well. I’ve taken that approach with setting up the Bayside Women’s Business Network – I had a view of what it should do, but I made an effort to let the group have its say and put forward its own ideas. In the end, the two are broadly similar, but I think it makes a difference both to me and them that it is a collaborative effort.

Happiness has a real value

Obviously I’m living on much less than I had when I was working full time, but I really don’t feel any difference in terms of material things. I still do the things I love, though I’m just a bit more careful about it. I have a comfortable home, I go out. But I am much much richer in personal terms and that makes a real difference to my life. I do work I enjoy, I set my own terms, I have a strong, supportive partner. It’s so easy to undervalue the importance of being happy. I’m so grateful that I had a chance to realise that while I still (touch wood!) have time to act on it. I’d be even happier if my dear friends and family were here with me, and maybe I should have valued them more when I was unhappy. That’s part of the perspective too, I suppose.

I don’t know what the future holds

Since I left school I’ve been on a path. One I chose, and was happy with for the most part. Year off, uni, European Fast Stream, Commission. But the path dwindled away and now I’m thrashing through the forest undergrowth trying to find a new one. That’s scary, but very exciting and it does seem that the new path is going to be in a different direction to the old one. Not radically different, I’m not going to run away and join a circus, but different enough. And its form is going to be different – I think for a while at least I’m going to try to develop the portfolio-type work I’ve been doing while I’ve been here. It suits my popcorn machine of a brain to have different projects going on! Doing things the way that works for me and keeps me fulfilled is much more important to me at the moment than having a ‘proper job’ with a title I can put on a business card. If I’m making it up as I go along, well, that’s fine by me.

The power of social networks

When I was 9 years old, my family moved to Finland and I went to the International School of Helsinki until the age of 11, when I went off to boarding school in the UK. My best friend, probably the first one I had, was an American girl called Katja Ollendorff. She lived in the next suburb to us, so we spent a lot of time at each other’s houses and we were both obsessed with the Police. I remember evenings spent dissecting all the inner meaning of the lyrics of every song on Zenyatta Mondatta, and probably ascribing much more meaning than the original authors ever intended.

In the way of diplomatic kids, though, our respective families moved on. We kept in touch by letter for a while, but eventually lost touch.

Fast forward to 2014. I use a mail application called Mailbox, which encourages you to aim for #inboxzero. When you get there, you get an image, curated from somewhere on the web. Today it was a very striking pattern, and I was intrigued, so I clicked on it.

It took me through to an Instagram page and you can probably imagine my astonishment when the account was owned by a graphic designer called Katja Ollendorff! Like Antonia Mochan, this is hardly a run-of-the-mill name! I left a message on the page, to see if it was indeed the same one, and it is.

We all know that the 6 degrees of separation seem to have been reduced to half that through social networks, or maybe they are just more visible. But this connection seems utterly random. The connection between me and Mailbox, and Mailbox and Katja is so tenuous as to have made this connection hugely unlikely. What if I hadn’t got to #inboxzero today? I might never have come across her again. Even when I do reach it, I rarely click on the picture – this one was just particularly eye-catching. The whole thing is completely weird and wonderful at the same time.

As you know, I am a passionate advocate for the power of social networks to bring people together. It was joyous to have this example of how that happens given to me today.

Has Emma Watson just revived feminism?

I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. (Rebecca West)

I’ve been thinking about writing about feminism for a while.  Since I arrived in Australia, there have been a few moments, such as the whole #frightbat incident, or the Women Against Feminism tumblr, that have made me realise that  women generally seem to get more radical about feminism as they get older, and I can really understand why. As a young woman I was aware of the importance of equality and the fact that women couldn’t take that equality for granted. As I have got older, and experienced things in my career and my life, that has become clearer and clearer. I am not a man-hater. I don’t think women are better than men. Such a view would, it seems to me, to be incompatible with feminism, which is all about rejecting the idea that people should be defined by their gender. I just don’t want my map-reading skills or love of sport to be called into question because I am of the “wrong gender” for those things.

I think I entered my early womanhood aware that there had been and continued to be issues but hoping that I wouldn’t see them, because I was lucky enough to be born in the post-war, post-bra burning era and in the Western world. And yet, I experienced so many of the things that the #YesAllWoman hashtag talked about – being expected to take the note or pour the tea at the meeting, even if you are a senior participant; being kerb-crawled, even when dressed in jeans and DMs; being accused by a colleague of only getting promoted because I was a woman; watching my incredibly beautiful and accomplished colleague being talked about behind her back, suggesting she was only getting ahead because she was sleeping with the right people, rather than because she was bloody excellent at her job. There’s only so long you can watch this happen again and again and not think there is something bigger going on.

In May this year, a friend and I went to listen to Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism project talking about what propelled her to start that work, and it was pretty hard to listen to.  I have to admit I felt quite despairing leaving the Wheeler Centre that day. I’m the age now my mother was when I left university and I would never have imagined that we would still be having these discussions all these years later, that young women entering the world of work now would still have to be prepared to face those struggles. Or that ads like this would air, for example.

And then, when it all seemed quite bleak, along came Emma Watson. A young woman articulating beautifully why feminism matters, not just for women, but for the men that want to spend time with their children, or not be defined by their work or reach out for help without being called soft.

“Why has the word [feminism] become such an uncomfortable one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.”

I really hope that young people of both genders will listen to the Emmas and Malalas and many others like them. I really hope that a young woman leaving university this year will be able to get on with being the best she can, on her own terms and in her own way, and be judged on nothing more than that.

Some thoughts on the future world of work

I have been absolutely useless at blogging recently, largely because there has been so little time and head-space for it. If I thought I was taking a career break to take it easy, I was very much mistaken!

Although Semester 2 has just started, there was no real Winter Break for the EMA cohort, with intensive courses all through June and July. We just finished one on the Secret Life of Organisations, which I found utterly fascinating and will probably be the broad domain for any future research, if that’s the route I decide to take.

While reading the final set reading for the course, Workplace 2025–—What will it look like? by Linda Gratton (Organizational Dynamics (2011) 40, 246-254) I came across the following paragraph:

[At] the U.K. telecom company BT ,…flexible working has been embedded across all the corporation through home-based working, flexible and part-time work, and job sharing. BT found that the real win occurred when senior executives became role models for flexible working, and when it was conclusively shown that those who work flexibly are up to 20 percent more productive and significantly less likely to leave the company . This wide-scale adoption began after a series of trials in which BT employees began to discover new and more flexible ways of working, with the real shift coming from measuring output instead of measuring input. At first, employees working from home or working flexible hours found it difficult to escape the engrained attendance mindset. However , once the metric of value had been explicitly inverted from time to output, then flexibility became more acceptable. A second breakthrough came when the executive team at BT decided that it was the responsibility of the employee to present a business case that illustrated the personal, collegial and organizational benefits of working flexibly . Over time, these initial experiments became custom and practice, with over 20,000 people from all generations working on tailored flexible working programs.

I’ve highlighted the three sections I think are particularly salient. Firstly, flexible working isn’t some kind of sop to working women, or a way to appear progressive. It makes a difference to productivity and staff turnover, two crucial factors for any organsiation, public or private. Secondly, I believe we have to move away from a mindset where presence and process is all that is measured, towards one more focused on outcomes and outputs. I admit this is not easy in an organisation where there is no money coming in, like the one I used to work in, but I truly believe it is worth the effort. Measuring our worth to an organisation by the amount of time we spend at a desk, or the number of pieces of paper we move from one place to another just seems anachronistic. Thirdly, there is a cultural change that is necessary and the senior management have to be on board with that. I have been lucky enough to have a number of managers, since the very earliest days, that trusted me to be working out of the office when that is what I said I was doing. And of course, they saw the results. But it is still the case that people have called me when I am working from home and said “sorry to bother you”. I’m WORKING, it’s fine to call me! For some, there is an implicit assumption that if you are working from home, it’s because there is some other priority. Sometimes, often in fact, I work from home because work is my priority and I can do it better there.

Gratton’s article (very interesting if you can get your hands on it) highlights three major factors that will affect the future of work: technology, globalisation and carbon. The third of these is another reason why working outside the office is going to become so important. How many times did I think, as I stood on the train to Cannon Street, squeezed in with hundreds of others, ‘Why are we all doing this? Why are literally millions of us all spending 2 or more hours a day travelling to and from an office to do things we can do as well, or better, walking distance from home?’. There are of course reasons to go into the office – meetings, interaction with staff and colleagues, for example – and occupations where you can’t work from home, but for a large proportion of us, it’s an option. And think of the impact it would have on any major city’s public transport and road systems if hundreds of thousands of people were removed from rush-hour.

Looking to my future, I’m still not sure what it holds. But I’m pretty sure I want to work in a place that allows me to organise myself best to deliver what is expected of me, rather than somewhere that focuses on desk- and clock-watching.

When beards got political

So Eurovision is over for another year, and the bearded drag queen won. I didn’t particularly like the song, but, especially as I carry out some research into the political and socio-historical importance of Eurovision, was glad to acknowledge the win as a symbol of how far we have come in recognising the rights of people to love whoever they want within an adult, consenting relationship and to express themselves in ways that challenge norms.

Well, how far some of us have come. Papers and news sites are today carrying stories of Russian men shaving off their beards in protest at the participation of Conchita Wurst and of course the win. Maybe they weren’t the only ones.

Well if they can use beards as a political protest so can I. I went to a website where you can add a beard to your picture, and that’s what I’ve done. And I’m now going to use it as my avatar in solidarity with Conchita Wurst and what her win stood for. It would be rather cool if some other people did that too.

 

Time for something of a change

Something very exciting is happening to me in a few month’s time. I will be packing up a couple of bags and moving to Melbourne for 18 months. I’ve decided to go back to university, and have been accepted on to the Executive Master of Arts at Melbourne, a leadership-type programme targeted at people in mid-career, and with a strong communication component, which I’m sure you can imagine appealed to me very strongly! I think a new perspective on the world, from a part of it that I don’t know very well, is just what I need at the moment.

I’ll definitely keep blogging, and hopefully will have more time and more space in my head to devote to it. I’m sure I’ll be interested in the same kind of issues on the other side of the world: tech, engagement with politics, use of social media especially for the public sector, EU stuff and foreign languages.

I’ve still got a few months in London, culminating in the Citizens’ Dialogue event on 10 February, so you’ll still be hearing from me here for a while yet.

La vie et les villes multilingue(s)

Pour moi, une grande joie de ma vie à Londres, c’est d’habiter une ville multilingue. Juste ce matin, pendant mon voyage quotidien au bureau, j’ai entendu 5 ou 6 langues autre que l’anglais, dans le Tube et dans les rues. Les langues changent d’un quartier à l’autre – dans le sud-est de Londres, j’entendais beaucoup de langues africaines et il y a aussi des communautés chinoise et vietnamienne là-bas. A Chiswick, c’est plutôt des langues européens. Cette carte montre très clairement la diversité des langues à Londres et (ce que je trouve le plus intéressant) les regroupe par “famille”.

A partir de mars de l’année prochaine, je vais me retrouver dans une autre grande ville avec une diversité linguistique, c’est-à-dire Melbourne, Australie. C’est assez connu que Melbourne héberge des grandes populations d’origine grecque et italienne. Mais selon ces chiffres, presqu’un tiers de la population de la ville parle une langue autre que l’anglais chez eux. Certes c’est en grande mesure du aux étudiants étrangers, mais pour moi, c’est une grande avantage de Melbourne face aux autres villes australiennes. Vive la diversité linguistique!

Schroedinger’s cat for the humanities?

A while ago a few of us had a discussion on Twitter about the Schroedinger’s cat thought experiment. One of my friends, @ottocrat said

and then

Although I’m a social science person myself, I was a Science media spokesperson for three years and did get very interested in the subject, including some low level study. I know Niels Bohr said

Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.

but I do think I see what Schroedinger’s cat is trying to say. So I tried to find a way of explaining it that would make sense to a humanities person. This is what I came up with.

Imagine a woman, who has been seeing a man for a while. She feels very strongly about him, has dissected and pored over the relationship with her friends, and is certainly thinking about a future together. But she isn’t sure how he feels. He seems to be into her, but then sometimes she’s not sure. At this point, he is in superposition – it is equally possible that he loves her and that he doesn’t, and she can think about her two alternative futures – living happily ever after together or going their separate ways – with the same amount of certainty. Each is as possible as the other.

However, as some point, maybe after a dinner with those friends and a couple of bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, she realises she needs to find out. She can’t go on with the uncertainty. So she asks. “Do you love me?”. The interesting humanities/quantum physics parallel is that the very act of asking forces a position. The position the question forces him to take in that moment may not be the one he would have taken left to his own devices, or given on a different day. The observer effect has been unleashed.

I shall ask @ottocrat if this makes any more sense to him. And maybe any quantum physicists that stumble across this can point out the glaring holes in the concept?

Getting to grips with visual communication

I took part in a fantastic training course on Friday, which I think could change the way I communicate in terms of the many presentations and workshops I am asked to do. I’ve always had a visual approach to communication, preferring to find an image to illustrate a point, rather than resorting to the sort of PowerPoints that are useless, because you can’t read them, and at the same time render you useless because they give your audience all the information. But quite often I am frustrated because I have a clear idea of the image I want, but can’t find it. So when I saw CreativityWorks offered a course on Cartooning for Communicators, and that it was in Brighton on 19 April when I had already arranged to be there the following day, it seemed to have my name all over it. So I booked it, and went along.

It was an absolutely fantastic course. Yes, it was drawing and we spent some time rediscovering our inate ability to draw. But in the afternoon it was more about the value of visual information. The act of trying to find a visual representation of an idea makes you think more simply about what it is you are trying to say. And it also engages your audience in a different way.

So when I’m talking about communicating clearly I can use something like this:

Avoid jargon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And rather than saying ‘think about your audience and the language they use’, I can show this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It means I can react to events in a different way:

Government wants harder-working toddlers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got a long way to go, I know, but it feels transformational in terms of how I think about communicating. Even if I don’t use an image, the search for one will help me think about what exactly it is I am trying to say, and that can only be a good thing.

 

 

 

At the end of the course we were asked to do a cartoon to show what we had learnt. Don’t take this literally!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They have another course in Manchester in June and I would recommend it if you are in the sort of job where you regularly have to get up in front of people. You won’t regret it!

 

 

 

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Going local

No this isn’t about EU communication policy. It’s about my street in Charlton, South-East London, which has decided to have a street party for the Jubilee. We got a note through the door a few weeks ago and last night those that were interested in helping out met in a local pub to talk through the ideas. For a start, there were a refreshingly large number of us – more than 20 I think. As someone who does a lot of organising of things, I’m used to that moment when you ask people to step up and suddenly find yourself with perhaps one or two other people. But not last night – just about everyone that turned up wanted to commit to doing something specific, and I think the problem is going to be more managing quite an unwieldy group rather than a few people being left to do everything. What a pleasant problem to have! Even if nothing comes of the whole enterprise (which seems unlikely) it was worth going along just to have met people in the street. I’ve been there 2 and a half years and really only know one family, my next-door neighbours. I didn’t even recognise the people there last night. And that’s going to be different now, which is great. It also gave an insight into the diversity of people that live in one street in South East London. People who have lived there their whole lives to people who have moved in recently; yummy mummies to duckers and divers; several nationalities; single people to large families. It’s a real microcosm of London and British life and I’m really happy that we’ll all be coming together on 4 June to have a good time.